Jose Mourinho has said that Manchester United can miss out on Champions League football for the next four years and still compete with the best.
United are currently attempting to qualify for next season’s competition, either through finishing in the Premier League’s top four or winning the Europa League.
However, Mourinho says that if United, who have been in the Champions League just once in the last three seasons, were to miss out again, it would not be too much of a problem given their stature in the game.
“We need and we don’t need,” Mourinho told a news conference. “We don’t need because Manchester United’s history is so big and Manchester United is so much bigger than many other clubs that are playing Champions League that if Manchester United do not play Champions League for four years that doesn’t affect the prestige, the dimension and history of the club.
“So Manchester United doesn’t need to play Champions League. But Manchester United wants to play, Manchester United feels that it’s the competition adapted to the history and ambitions of everyone at the club, so we want to play.
“We have to fight with everything we have to play Champions League next season. How can we do that? Win the Europa League or finish top four. So we have to fight to open doors. If one day a door closes then we have another door open. My feeling is that we will fight with everything we have in both competitions.”
Mourinho was speaking ahead of his side’s Europa League quarterfinal first leg against Anderlecht on Thursday.
United have already won the EFL Cup and Community Shield this season and Mourinho is determined to add the Europa League to that list.
“I have a special feeling in the Europa League and the players the same because it’s a competition we can win,” he said. “It can give us the same as the top four but it can give us a title. We won one-and-a-half titles [the EFL Cup and Community Shield] this season, but we have to fight for the Europa League and we have been doing that since the start of the competition.
“Ten matches already — [in] Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, France, Belgium, Holland. We are going around Europe, fighting and playing Thursday evenings and going to the Premier League at the weekend.”
Mourinho, whose side face Chelsea on Sunday, said earlier this month that his focus would be on winning the Europa League if United’s hopes of a top-four finish were fading.
However, if United were to drop out of contention for a Champions League spot, he feels it would be hard to field a weakened team in the Premier League as he would face criticism from the media. United currently sit fifth in the table, four points off Manchester City but with a game in hand on their rivals.
“When it’s mathematically very possible to finish top four, if we play against Chelsea with a second team you would kill me. The football country would kill me,” he said. “While mathematically it’s possible there’s no reason not to try. We have to try. With the risks you are speaking about, but we have to try.
“If in a certain moment of the season we have no chance to get top four and we are still in the Europa League, then there is a reason that nobody can deny or criticise because we have to focus on the Europa League.
“Let’s go to the scenario where we have to play Tottenham, Southampton, Crystal Palace and then the Europa League final. If we have no chances in the Premier League, everyone has to accept that I focus just on the Europa League.
“But in this moment we don’t know if we beat Anderlecht or what happens after that, and in the Premier League it’s still possible so we have to go with everything we have and hope for no more injuries and suspensions and hope players keep showing the character to go and go to the end. Until it’s mathematically impossible, we will fight for the top four.”
Meanwhile, Mourinho was asked what he thought about Juventus’ impressive 3-0 win over Barcelona in their Champions League quarterfinal first leg on Tuesday.
“It’s not my problem, it’s not my problem,” he said. “Impressed? No, I can’t be impressed when [this happens when] a side works to improve year on year — I can’t be impressed.”
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